Lunch seminar with Richard Collins

Why (Legitimate) Authority Now?


It has been claimed that international law is a discipline of crisis, though one might equally suggest that it is a discipline constantly in crisis. For some time, this crisis concerned the reality and relevance of international law in the conduct of international politics. Nowadays, however, in international law’s ‘post-ontological’ era, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny the evident reality, pervasiveness and normative reach of international legal rules into most areas of human activity. If anything, it would seem to be the case now that the concern has swung almost completely in the other direction: with the increasing proliferation and normative reach of a range of global regimes and institutions, both formal and informal, a more pressing concern now seems to be the extent to which, and on what basis, this kind of de facto global authority might be deemed legitimate? Whilst this concern has provoked a growing range of responses in the literature, from international lawyers and legal theorists alike – the expanding weight of which is arguably proof alone of a sense of disciplinary crisis – the sense of threat to the coherence of the modern discipline suggests that there is a convincing, plausible and defensible account of international law’s legitimate authority which is either decaying, defunct or otherwise under immense strain.

In this paper, I cast doubt on this account, or rather, I suggest that the crisis signifies not a crumbling of older certainties, but rather the implausibility of the assumption on which it is based. We might equate this assumption with what Başak Çalı (2015) has called the ‘standard view’ of international law’s authority, which simply equates authority with legal validity and grounds the legitimacy of this view in the consent of states. Whilst I aim to show how this view has never been empirically justified as a matter of fact nor defensible as a matter of principle, I will nonetheless defend a reformulated version of the standard view as at the very least a normatively defensible account of international law seen in ideal terms. However, my ultimate ambition is to seek to undermine the idea that international law needs to claim authority at all – at least, as this view of authority is commonly understood in legal-philosophical terms.

 All interested are welcome to attend. Registration is not necessary.